21C123 Blackmoor Vale was built to an order placed in 1944 at a cost of £17,160 and entered traffic in February 1946. The locomotive was painted in the distinctive Southern Railway’s livery of Malachite green with three horizontal yellow stripes and fitted with a 4,500 gallon tender. It also had the characteristic Southern smokebox roundel with the date of construction, 1946, below the word Southern.
In 1948, after the formation of British Railways, the locomotive was renumbered into the Southern Railway’s classification as 34023 still with the distinctive Southern roundel on the smokebox and with the lettering British Railways on the tender sides. The locomotive lost the Malachite green livery in 1950 when based at Salisbury and was repainted in BR Green with two orange and black lines replacing the upper and lower yellow lines of the earlier livery. The first BR lion and wheel emblem appeared on the tender, replacing the British Railways lettering. At the same the name was altered to Blackmore Vale.
To improve the visibility from the cab the front of the cab was modified to a Vee shape and three side windows were fitted, a modification carried out in 1954. Other modifications appeared on the locomotive over the next ten years, including the resitting of the safety valves from the front of the boiler to the rear of the boiler and reducing the valves to two in number.
The tenders of the locomotives were cut down by removal of the tall tender sides (raves) to assist water filling and coal replenishment. Blackmore Vale’s tender was modified in 1962.
Initially the locomotive was allocated to Ramsgate but in 1947 moved to Nine Elms and three years later to Salisbury. In April 1951 it was transferred to Exmouth Junction where it stayed until moving to Eastleigh in August 1964 and then Nine Elms in April 1967.
In September 1964 the locomotive worked the Padstow portion of the last up Atlantic Coast Express.
34023 was withdrawn in July 1967 after completing 921,268 miles whilst in service and purchased by the Bulleid Preservation Society. It is one of only two of the WC and BB class that preserved that did not get sold to Woodham Brothers for scrap but came direct into preservation from BR. The other locomotive being 34051 Winston Churchill.
With the impending end of steam on British Railways in July 1967, a group of drivers and their colleagues from Nine Elms, the motive power depot near Waterloo, had formed the Bulleid Preservation Society in 1966 to purchase a Bulleid Pacific. Initially the two Battle of Britain class pacifics 34066, Spitfire and 34086, 219 Squadron were considered suitable locomotives. However with the end of steam in July 1967, West Country class pacifics 34023 Blackmore Vale and 34102 Lapford were the only unrebuilt Bulleid pacifics remaining in traffic. 34023, Blackmore Vale was the locomotive purchased as it was considered to be the most mechanically sound.
The engine and tender were purchased for £1,900 and the locomotive transferred to Longmoor, the site of the Longmoor Military Railway. BR stated on the bill of sale that ‘No Guarantee can be given as to the condition and suitability for future use’.
With the closure of Longmoor in 1970, the Society, now called the Bulleid Society Ltd. found a new home at Liss on the short lived Longmoor Steam Railway.
Another move occurred in 1971 with the closure of the Longmoor Steam railway. 34023 was moved by rail to Haywards Heath and then by low loader to the Bluebell Railway, where it has stayed.
Five years later, in 1976, 21C123, Blackmoor Vale returned to traffic on the Bluebell Railway, resplendent in Malachite green. It was repainted in BR Green in 1984, its final BR livery, with additional cosmetic work being undertaken to give the locomotive the ‘1967’ appearance. It was withdrawn from traffic in 1985. Its tender was lent to Battle of Britain class pacific 34072, 257 Squadron and was used with the locomotive on the Swanage Railway.
The locomotive was overhaul and a new tender body built in the Bluebell’s Workshop.
After the locomotive’s return to traffic in 2000 for the second time in preservation it once more became the Bluebell Railways flagship.
In 2005 a major mechanical failure caused by the fracture of one of the three combination levers and the bending of one of the other levers caused the locomotive to be taken out of service. Luckily, spare combination levers had been obtained when the engine was purchased, but for the future new items will need to be obtained. With the closure of the remaining railway forges, water jet profile cutting of a steel billet is the means to obtain a new item.
One aspect of the engine under constant surveillance was the firebox, which dates to the latter days of BR steam. Problems with the firebox were the main reason for the withdrawal of the locomotive from traffic on the Bluebell Railway in 2008. The constant heating and cooling cycle that a boiler undergoes in the preservation world is very far removed from the thirty day period in traffic with no heating and cooling cycle the engine was subjected to in BR days. The firebox problems were leaking stays and the comparative thinness of the inner firebox plate.
After withdrawal from traffic, the engine has been in store at Sheffield Park and on display to the public.
The Bulleid Society Ltd is aware that to return the locomotive to traffic will require the renewal of much of the inner firebox and with this in mind the have commenced the purchase of items necessary to build a new inner firebox for No. 21C123. Currently, two new thermic syphons, costing £15,000 are on order with future orders directed to the items necessary to construct a new foundation ring and then the formed plate for the combustion chamber, the area below the syphons adjacent to the firebox tubeplate.
34023 was on static display on the Bluebell Railway whilst awaiting overhaul. A new firebox is being made at South Devon Railway Engineering along with four others for 34039, 34059, 34101 and a spare.
In April 2020 it was reported that work had started on stripping down the locomotive to prepare for the lifting of the boiler which will be sent to the South Devon Railway. It was still considered that it would be another five years before a full overhaul of the locomotive commences.
In December 2021 it was said that the overhaul had started and it was hoped to have the locomotive back in steam in 2023.
|Home Base||Current Status||Owner|
|Bluebell Railway||Under overhaul||The Bullied Society|
- 34007 Wadebridge (SR 21C107, BR s21C107 & BR 34007)
- 34010 Sidmouth (SR 21C2110, BR s21C110 & BR 34010)
- 34016 Bodmin (SR 21C2116, BR sc1C116 & BR 34016)
- 34027 Taw Valley (SR 21C127 & BR 34027)
- 34028 Eddystone (SR 21C128 & BR 34028)
- 34039 Boscastle (SR 21C139 & BR 34039)
- 34046 Braunton (SR 21C146, BR s21C146 & BR 34046)
- 34051 Winston Churchill (SR 21C151 & BR 34051)
- 34053 Sir Keith Park (SR 21C153 & BR 34053)
- 34058 Sir Frederick Pile (SR 21C158, BR s21C158 & BR 34058)
- 34059 Sir Archibald Sinclair (SR 21C159, BR s21C159 & BR 34059)
- 34067 Tangmere (SR 21C167, BR s21C167 & BR 34067)
- 34070 Manston (SR 21C170, BR s21C170 & BR 34070)
- 34072 257 Squadron
- 34073 249 Squadron
- 34081 92 Squadron
- 34092 Wells/City of Wells
- 34101 Hartland
- 34105 Swanage